Ms. Rice visited the Gulf Coast on Sunday, flying to Mobile, Ala., to attend a church service and meet with storm victims.Let me just interject at this point that this is neither a denial nor, strictly, responsive.
On the plane trip from Washington, Ms. Rice challenged accusations that the government had responded slowly because many of the victims were black.
"How can that be the case?" Ms. Rice said, according to The Associated Press. "Americans don't want to see Americans suffer."
She added, "Nobody, especially the president, would have left people unattended on the basis of race."
Later, at Pilgrim Rest A.M.E. Zion Church in Whistler, Ala., the Rev. Malone Smith Jr. invited Ms. Rice to say a few words.
"The Lord Jesus Christ is going to come on time," she said, "if we just wait."
Miss Vera couldn't wait
Neighbors buried Vera Smith on top of the concrete sidewalk at the edge of the Garden District on Saturday in a crude grave they made of soil and bricks they had unearthed from a little park nearby.
Smith had been dead for four days. She was killed by a hit-and-run driver Tuesday night as panicked residents fled the flooded city and looters descended on her neighborhood. She became one of the hundreds, possibly thousands, who died in the mayhem unleashed by Hurricane Katrina.
Over the next several days, the humid New Orleans heat had rendered her body so unrecognizable that strangers could not tell whether she was a man or a woman, black or white, said John Lee, one of the neighbors who helped bury her.
"I saw a bloodied corpse weeping body fluids onto the street," said Lee, who had not known her when she was alive.
But to the neighbors who knew her, she was Vera, the sweet lady in her 60s who had liked shopping and wigs and casinos, whose husband's name was Max and who had adored her two small dogs.
"That's Miss Vera right there," remarked a woman who rode on a bicycle past Smith's fresh grave, before pedaling past the boarded-up, plastered facades of deserted Magazine Street. "We know her."
The police, too overwhelmed by the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe in the city, refused the neighbors' pleas to collect her body. Instead, they spray-painted "29" -- the police complaint code number signifying death in Louisiana -- on the sidewalk near where she lay, along with an arrow pointing at her body.
Unwilling to tolerate the indignity of her abandonment, Smith's neighbors decided to bury her themselves Saturday, joining throngs of New Orleans residents who are simply taking charge of their own incomprehensible problems.
"Let the country see this," wept Maggie McEleney, who wore a respirator pushed up on her forehead as she freed elliptical bricks from an overgrown rock garden and arranged them to frame the grave.
Lee and Patrick McCarthy stabbed the brown earth with their dirty shovels and piled the soil on top of Smith's bloated body. A man in a white SUV pulled over, grabbed an extra shovel and joined the men.
"In this community, everybody's by themselves right now," said Jonea Jones, who paused by Vera's grave on the way to get ice, which she was planning to take from a nearby supermarket that already had been ransacked by looters. "We're looking for help. Pray for us, pray for us."
This is what it says on Miss Vera's grave
Nobody can say when on time is, Dr. Rice. You'd best start praying.
After all, Jesus is probably talking to Miss Vera right now.